Nowadays, it’s somehow assumed that children won’t succeed in life unless their parents, especially mothers, are heavily involved with them and their education.
This is driven by the concept that there’s something special about the way mothers interact with children. So mothers everywhere feel guilty that they don’t spend enough hours with their children.
That’s understandable, especially when both parents work and struggle to find time for anything else. But, in fact, both parents are now more involved with their children than ever before. So much so, that many working mothers now spend more time with their children than stay-at-home mothers did a generation ago.
But do all those hours make a difference?
None at all. Providing you’re not actually neglecting them, the total number of hours parents spend with their children between the ages of three and 11 has no effect whatsoever on their academic achievement, behaviour, emotional well-being or eventual success in life.
Some of the time you spend with your children can even be harmful — for example, when you’re stressed, deprived of sleep, or feeling guilty or anxious. Or if the time’s spent watching TV, especially with children under six. Children also need unstructured time to themselves for social and cognitive development.
That’s not to say that parental involvement isn’t important. It’s just that the total amount of time you spend with them doesn’t matter at all — except perhaps during adolescence.
Teens do better if they eat meals with their parents, for example, and talk to their mother. They behave better, are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, or engage in risky behaviours. But even then, around six hours a week together is more than enough.
So what does matter? Your warmth and sensitivity. And simple shared activities such as reading together, eating together, and talking one to one — especially giving them your undivided attention when it’s needed, even if in only five-minute bursts. And listening without criticising, so that they tell you everything. They’ll remember those moments for ever and you’ll learn lots from them! And head off no end of problems — like realising that they’re falling in with the wrong sort of friends for example.
What else matters?Being a good role model. Because that teaches them your values. And helps them appreciate how hard adults have to work. And seeing how their parents love one another helps children understand relationships far better than any lecture at school.
Praise their efforts just as much as their achievements. Because working hard at school, homework and chores predicts a child’s success far more than does their IQ or your family income.
Help them learn to make good choices. Set clear expectations — and enforce them. And keep your promises! Because that’s how children learn to control their impulses and to work towards distant goals. After that, the amount of time you spend with them doesn’t matter. So relax, and enjoy every minute of it!